#LMRanks: Breakdown of the WCLA DI Top 20
|Colorado State and UCSB played for the WCLA title a year ago, and are both looking solid as 2014 kicks off. (Cecil Copeland)|
For the first time in history, the US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) National Championship will be played on the East Coast when the nation's top women's club lacrosse teams come to Virginia Beach in early May. Colorado State has dominated the WCLA Division I in recent years, but with heavy graduations losses, the road to the championship is as wide open as any time in recent memory.
Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III, and NJCAA and club men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown atLaxMagazine.com/LMranks and on Twitter at #LMranks.
Here's a breakdown of the preseason Top 20:
1. Colorado State
The Rams lost a dominant senior class – five All-Americans including Hayley Bernstein, who won the Amtacha Award as the top player in the WCLA last year, and Maddie Garcia, the fiery leader who was the WCLA's Attacker of the Year, are all gone. But CSU has won three of the last four national championships, and reached the final in 2012, so someone is going to have to prove that the Rams don't belong in the top spot. Junior Ali Slyne has been a big contributor her first two years and the returning first team All-American will take on more of a leadership role this year. Senior Abby Wattenbarger is a returning All-American on defense.
The Gauchos made an unexpected run to the WCLA championship game last season and will be in the hunt for their first national title this spring. Senior goalie Megan Hughes starred in the playoff run last year behind a talented defensive group that includes sophomore Cailia Howey. Leading scorer Katie Mitchell has graduated, but junior Lindsay Alex is back following to lead the offense after registering 73 assists last year, including a WCLA tournament record seven assists in UCSB's 12-11 semifinal win over BYU.
Georgia has steadily been improving the last few years, and last year took a leap forward by advancing to the WCLA quarterfinal round. The Bulldogs have been know for their defense, and while replacing All-American goalie Emily Seidel won't be easy, defender Kelly Arnhart is one of the best players in the nation. Senior Murphy Ferguson will lead the offense.
4. Cal Poly
After winning the first seven WCLA national championships (2001-2007), Cal Poly hasn't won one since. But the Mustangs showed serious signs of life during last year's WCLA national tournament, reaching the semifinal round after missing the tournament for the first time ever in 2012. Seniors Christa Nelson and Emily DeSimone will lead a powerful offense.
BYU had its best season ever in the WCLA last year, earning a No. 2 seed for the tournament and reaching the semifinals. There will be big challenges for the Cougars after losing the powerful 1-2 punch of Brooke Smith and Kristen Lund on offense and Megan McCleary in goal, but sophomore attacker Briana Arnold is among the young players ready to move into a bigger role.
Senior Tully Moorhead was named Lacrosse Magazine's WCLA Preseason Player of the Year and the midfielder will be looking to extend the Longhorns recent run of success. Texas has made the national tournament five straight years, and last year moved onto the quarterfinals for the first time ever. Rachel English is also a returning All-American for Texas.
7. Florida Club
Florida has missed the WCLA national tournament just once since 2003, and has been largely successful, but has yet to break through to the championship game. All-American midfielder Nicole White and attacker McKinley Carden will be among the leaders looking to help the Gators get past league rival Georgia and into the national title hunt.
Pitt reached the WCLA quarterfinals last year and led eventual national champion Colorado State late in the first half of its quarterfinal matchup. Where can the Panthers go this year? Senior All-American Christa Lausten led Pitt with 67 goals last year and will be a key figure in determining where they end up.
9. Virginia Club
The Cavaliers have reached the national tournament two straight years and will feature a deep team in 2014 as they look to make some noise in their home state with Virginia Beach hosting this year's national championship. Senior Emily Bohannan was a first team All-American on defense last year and the Cavaliers also return two all-conference midfielders in juniors Nicole Geist and Caroline Gibson.
10. Colorado Club
|Georgia took a step up with a WCLA quarterfinals appearance in 2013, while Minnesota hopes to improve on its 10th place finish. (Cecil Copeland)|
Colorado had played in eight straight national tournaments, and reached the finals in 2009, before missing last year's tourney. The Buffs missed out largely because of a brutal schedule. Colorado finished just 7-10, but four of the victories came against teams that played in the national tournament...and they had four one-goal losses to tournament teams, including eventual national champion Colorado State. Captains Remy Denner and Meaghan Stertzer will look to lead CU back to the tourney.
11. Santa Clara
The Maggie Burke era came to an end in 2013. One of the most prolific scorers in WCLA history, Burke was named the WCLA Midfielder of the Year last year, but she is gone and Santa Clara will need to form a new identity. All-American midfielder Dana Kilsby is the top returning player from a team that upset Florida Club at last year's nationals on its way to a seventh place finish.
12. USC Club
The Trojans had a breakthrough season in 2013, going 18-4 reaching the WCLA nationals for the first time ever. Once there, they showed they belonged by overcoming a first round loss to win three straight games and finish in ninth place. Senior Erin McGillivray is back to lead USC's potent offense after a monster junior season where she ended up with 129 points (69g, 60a). Hayden Furey is also a returning 60-goal scorer.
Minnesota has made seven straight trips to nationals and last year's 10th place finish was its best ever. The Gophers took No. 3 seed Georgia to overtime in the opening round and posted big wins over Virginia Club and Florida Club in the tourney, and Santa Clara in the regular season. Sophomore goalie Allie Thalhuber is back after being named the WCLA's Rookie of the Year in 2013.
After making back-to-back trips to the WCLA Division II national tourney in 2011 and 2012, Westminster moved up to Division I last year. The Griffins missed out on a bid to nationals, but had a solid season with an 11-4 record, highlighted by a win over Colorado. Dana Barraco and Maggie HerrNeckar, both 50-goal scorers last year, return. HerrNeckar was a second team All-American.
15. Ohio State Club
Ohio State went 15-3 last year, and lost in overtime to a strong Pitt team in the Women's Collegiate Lacrosse League championship game. In hopes of making it to this year's national championship, the Buckeyes have upgraded their schedule to include a trip to Boulder for a late March tournament.
16. Maryland Club
Maryland made its first trip to the WCLA nationals since 2006 last season and finished in 12th place. Lauren Groft, Jillian Marchese and Allison Pedro are all returning all-league players for the Terps, whose biggest wins last year came over Michigan Club, Penn State Club and Pitt.
17. Michigan Club
Michigan started strong in 2013 with an 8-1 record that included wins over Cal Poly, UCLA and UCSB, but struggled down the stretch and finished just 12-10. The Wolverines did make their 11th trip to nationals, the second most of any team in the nation, and return a talented attack for 2014. Junior Katie Mewza was a first team all-league player and Ellen Manson was the WCLL Rookie of the Year.
18. Virginia Tech Club
Like rival Virginia, Virginia Tech will especially have its eyes on this year's WCLA nationals in Virginia Beach. The Hokies went 8-6 last year in a season when more than half of their games were decided by two goals or less. The 2009 national champs are coming off of a strong fall season when they went 7-1.
UCLA has a disappointing 7-8 season last year, but battled Santa Clara tough in the opening round of the WWLL playoffs before winning two straight to finish fifth in the league. Midfielder Molly Tracy is a returning all-league performer and one of the Bruins top threats.
20. Penn State Club
After a strong showing at the WCLA nationals in 2012, the Nittany Lions slipped to a 6-6 record last year. Penn State's best win was a 12-10 victory over Maryland Club and now senior attackers and club co-presidents Alex Kelly and Aubree Cannone will look to return PSU to the national picture.
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